Test Ride | 2011 Zero S Conquers The Mean Streets of Hollywood

Warning: Motorcycling, especially in Los Angeles, is extremely dangerous. Never ride beyond your comfort level. With experience, riders eventually feel comfortable at higher speeds and riding in riskier situations. But we all have our own risk tolerance level. I acknowledge that lanesplitting is somewhat risky. But in 25 years of riding, my experience (and statistics) have found entering intersections to be far more dangerous than any other aspect of street riding.

The Need for Speed

In spite of constantly whining that currently available electric motorcycles aren’t fast enough, I must admit… There’s a special feeling that comes from exceeding a bike’s specified top speed. Sure, it was downhill, but still. 75mph is well above the 67mph limit Zero claims the 2011 S taps out at. Now imagine the speeds one can achieve with a little engine modification… I’m not sure why they chose to supply both a digital and an analog speedo, but there they are. The digital one reads 75, so it must be right.

This is the 4th Zero I’ve test ridden, and by far the best. It feels much more solid and capable of higher speeds than any other Zero S I’ve ridden. The belt drive does indeed make it blissfully silent and almost completely maintenance free. And with a top speed of 75mph, I’m likely to go through fewer tires than on my R1, so it will even be lower maintenance in that regard. However, at 75mph I was just barely keeping with the flow of traffic on the Hollywood Freeway. On the other hand, I was tearing up the curves on Mulholland like I actually knew how to ride a Supermoto (I don’t, and feel completely lost on them).

I could’ve gone faster on Mulholland (links to video), but that’s as fast as I want to go on a bumpy road in a residential neighborhood. The ride up Laurel Canyon (links to video) was great too, despite the fact nobody could hear me coming up alongside them. I didn’t feel any less visible than I do on my gas bike. This video is of the final and fastest segment, on the Hollywood Freeway. This is the toughest test of any small vehicle, and I feel the Zero S performed adequately. I would’ve felt safer if I had a bit more speed in reserve, in case I needed to throttle my way out of a hazardous situation. But for the rider who prefers not to risk a double point infraction, this bike is more than adequate for LA riding. (More than 20mph over the speed limit is worth 2 points in CA.) Apologies for the fog in this video, the earlier ones are clearer. Those GoPro anti-fog inserts are hard to come by.

I rode the bike as aggressively as I would any other bike, and while I really missed the raw acceleration I get off the line from the 180hp gas guzzler I normally ride, the Zero S had no problem leaving cars in the dust at each green light. I checked my mirrors a few times on Hollywood Blvd, sure that the cars would’ve been right behind me, only to find they were still taking their time moseying away from the light. I returned the bike to Hollywood Electrics with about 30% less juice, after an aggressive 13.3 mile ride which included about 2 miles at top speed and doing my best to win imaginary drag races at every green light (after first checking to make sure no cross traffic planned on running their red light!).

To compare the Zero S to a more comparable machine, EmpulseBuyer shows the ownership costs of this bike against ownership costs of a Suzuki SV650. The SV650 is an excellent comparison, as both are great entry-level/commuter bikes that are also loads of fun in the canyons. In fact, the SV650 is so much fun in the corners, and cheap to own, that many people race them.

Motorcycles Make Los Angeles A Fun Place to Live

Here’s the route I took, which I recommend for anyone test riding a motorcycle capable of 60+mph from Hollywood Electrics:

(click map to go to google maps)

Of course, Hollywood Electrics won’t let anyone test ride a motorcycle without a motorcycle license, and the best way to get one of those is to find a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course near you. Students who pass the course can usually skip the DMV’s driving test and get a discount from most insurance companies. As reported here, electric motorcycles & scooters are set to outpace electric car sales worldwide. This is very exciting news for people who’d love to see scooters & motorcycles as ubiquitous here as they are in the rest of the world. Yes, riding is more dangerous than driving. Mainly because it requires MUCH more concentration. But that’s also the joy of riding- being at one with your environment, undisturbed by phone calls, texts, thoughts of anything beyond the vehicles around you.

Susanna Schick

Susanna is passionate about anything fast and electric. As long as it's only got two wheels. She covers electric motorcycle racing events, test rides electric motorcycles, and interviews industry leaders. Occasionally she deigns to cover automobile events in Los Angeles for us as well. However, she dreams of a day when Los Angeles' streets resemble the two-wheeled paradise she discovered living in Barcelona and will not rest until she's converted the masses to two-wheeled bliss.